The Problem With Having Too Many “Options”
Swipe left, swipe right, swipe left again. What activity could I be referring to here? Watching everyone’s IG stories? Using Tinder or POF? Music streaming? It doesn’t really matter. There are just so many options to choose from.
As a society, we are obsessed with having options. Not sure what you want to do with your life? Pursue a degree or 12-week course. Want to broaden the scope of this degree or course? Go to grad school and top it up. Still not quite sure what to do with post-grad life? Get some kind of consulting role at a major firm so you can decide what kind of job suits you. And this laundry list goes on. Even our insurance options have insurance options. We all fall prey to what I call the optionality fallacy.
The problem here isn’t necessarily the having options part — it’s the accumulating options that is problematic. The problem is that we tend to assume that all our options and opportunities are built by keeping as many doors open for as long as possible. In the words of Erik Torenberg, this is kind of like “spending your whole life filling up the gas tank without ever driving.”
It’s not entirely our fault, either. The concept of optionality, or the ability to choose from a wide array of alternatives, is undeniably appealing. In a consumer-driven society, we’re bombarded with messages that suggest that more choices lead to a better life. We’re encouraged to keep our options open, to explore multiple career paths, and to have access to a seemingly endless variety of products and services. But do these endless options truly make us happier and more fulfilled? After all, they say variety is the spice of life — but we have to follow a recipe if we want the end result to come out right — not just throw any old spices in.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz famously introduced the idea of the “paradox of choice ” in his book of the same name. He argued that while having some choice is undoubtedly beneficial, too much choice can lead to negative consequences. When faced with an overwhelming number of options, people often experience decision paralysis, anxiety, and dissatisfaction with their final choices. This phenomenon has been observed in various aspects of life, from consumer goods to dating to career decisions.
Why accumulating options isn’t the answer
Life’s journey unfolds in a non-linear fashion. Few things are as intricate and unpredictable as the path our lives take. Every day introduces us to unforeseeable challenges and unexpected occurrences. The addition of an adverse event, like losing your job, or a stroke of luck, such as inheriting a substantial sum of money, can magnify the joys or sorrows in a manner that defies linear logic.
Given this inherent unpredictability, how can you shape a life that not only acknowledges but embraces the capricious nature of reality?
Many highly ambitious individuals invest substantial time and effort in accumulating what they perceive as optionality. This often involves competing for admission to prestigious universities, securing coveted work placements, and continually acquiring popular skills. It seems like a logical path to expand one’s range of opportunities. However, there’s a fundamental issue with this approach: we can’t predict the future.
Accumulating widely recognized skills may give the illusion of more optionality, but the truth is, we’re unable to foresee what will be valuable or essential in the coming years. Life is a complex system filled with unpredictable twists and turns. We can’t anticipate the random events, both positive and negative, that life will present us with.
In such a dynamic and uncertain system, where the cause-and-effect relationships are often unclear, it’s more advantageous to embrace trial and error. Experimentation and tinkering become a more efficient investment of your time than rigidly following a predefined path of learning. This traditional approach assumes intrinsic value in specific skills and disregards the non-linear nature of life’s journey.
The problem of accumulating too many options:
The Fallacy of Control
One of the reasons we place such a high value on optionality is the belief that it gives us more control over our lives. We assume that having numerous alternatives at our disposal means we can optimize every decision and avoid regret. However, this perception of control is largely illusory. The more choices we have, the more time and mental energy we must invest in making those choices, and the less satisfied we often feel with the outcomes.
Another aspect of the optionality fallacy is the concept of opportunity costs. Every choice we make comes at the expense of other potential choices. While we may revel in our freedom to explore numerous possibilities, we often fail to consider the opportunities we’re missing out on because we’re spread too thin. In essence, the pursuit of optionality can lead to a lack of commitment and depth in our endeavors.
The more choices we face, the more mental energy we expend in making decisions. This phenomenon, known as decision fatigue, can lead to poorer-quality decisions as our cognitive resources become depleted. Consequently, we may make hasty or impulsive choices, rather than thoughtful ones.
The Paralysis of Comparison
In a society where social media constantly showcases the seemingly perfect lives of others, the pursuit of optionality can lead to a continuous comparison game. When we see the myriad choices available to others, we might feel compelled to match or surpass them, even if these choices don’t align with our true desires or values. This can lead to stress and dissatisfaction.
The belief in endless optionality often encourages rampant consumerism. We accumulate possessions, experiences, and relationships, often to impress others or seek fleeting happiness. In the process, we deplete Earth’s finite resources and contribute to environmental degradation.
Reducing the Noise of Optionality
In a world where optionality is celebrated, it’s essential to recognize that there is a point of diminishing returns. To avoid falling into the optionality fallacy, consider these strategies:
Prioritize What Truly Matters: Identify your core values and long-term goals. Focus your energy and attention on the choices that align with these priorities rather than chasing every available option.
Embrace Constraints: Recognize that constraints can be catalysts for creativity and innovation. Limitations force you to make deliberate choices and can lead to more meaningful outcomes.
Practice Mindfulness: Cultivate mindfulness and self-awareness to better understand your motivations and desires. This can help you make choices that align with your authentic self rather than succumbing to societal pressures.
Quality Over Quantity: Shift your focus from accumulating options to maximizing the quality of the options you do choose. Invest your time and resources into fewer, more meaningful pursuits.
How the Crown can narrow your options
In a world teeming with choices and constant distractions, The Crown offers a unique approach to decluttering your mental space. By leveraging EEG technology to understand your cognitive responses, it allows you to focus on the few options that matter most, significantly enhancing your productivity and overall well-being.
As we continue to navigate a complex and rapidly changing world, tools like The Crown become valuable allies in simplifying our lives and helping us make decisions that truly align with our goals and aspirations.
By streamlining our thought processes and filtering out unnecessary options, we can unlock our full potential and achieve greater success and satisfaction in our personal and professional lives.